You'll Always Know Your Pal

Roller coaster recovery time.

Yesterday we arrived in Maine. One of the things I like most about traveling is the opportunity for unexpected moments with random strangers. This can happen at home of course, but the odds are better on the road.

Somewhere between Erie and Buffalo we stopped for coffee and car snacks. I stood at a bank of coffee pots along the side of the raised box where the cashiers stand and poured myself some "bold" roast coffee, but I couldn't see anything to put in it. David had already gotten his so I called back over my shoulder, "Where's the cream?" He was involved in some important junk food negotiation with the kids and didn't answer right away. "David, where's the cream?" I asked again.

The woman behind the counter gave me an odd look and said, "It's behind you." A second later David chimed in and said, "It's over here."

I shrugged at the woman and apologized. "I was trying to ask him," I explained. "I wasn't trying to bark questions at you."

She said, "I thought you said 'baby,' like 'Baby, where's the cream?'"

"I wouldn't have called you 'baby,'" I said. "I was calling him."

She said, "Well, I thought maybe you were just being nice. I could've said, 'It's behind you, darlin.'" Then she thought a second and asked, "Is he Baby?"

"No, his name is David. I said, 'David.'"

She shrugged and said, "Well, my brother-in-law's name is David, so I guess that makes sense too."

"OK," I said, failing to understand how that made sense, and turned to the cream.

A few minutes later, junk food negotiations complete for the time being, I gathered the cookies and chips and coffees and headed to the cash register.

"I'm ready now, baby," I said.

The cashier smirked and said, "OK, sweetheart," then lowered her voice to a conspiratorial stage whisper. "People're going to think we're nuts," she said and nodded toward David, perusing the Pringles display. "Especially him."

"He's pretty easy going," I said. "We don't have anything to worry about."

She gave me my change. "You take care then, Babe. Bye-bye."

Reading: Continuing with Gaiman's American Gods, which is nicely apt for me right now. I want to type out the passage I marked about choosing roadside attractions over shopping malls, but I am too lazy to go upstairs and get my book.

And in the car David read to me from a recent Janet Malcolm essay from the NYer about the Argosy bookstore. I love bookstores and the day to day work of them. I had an alternate life path in which I was offered the position as head of the used book department at an independent bookseller in Manhattan. I was not really qualified to take this position, but I had worked at the store, in new books, for quite a while, and who knows, perhaps I would have learned the trade. I moved to Cleveland instead, because I was in love with a Clevelander and tired of being poor and overcrowded in New York, and I wanted to grow green things and have solitude. Cleveland and that Clevelander have been good to me, and I have good relationships with Cleveland booksellers, some of whom I have worked for. I wonder sometimes, though, about that other life.

Writing: No. I've decided to take a reading vacation and not make a writing schedule. I had a really great, very helpful conversation with my friend Charlie before we left town, and I was able to clarify some important aspects of what I've been working on this summer. One of the things I clarified was how starved I am for extended reading time.

Dinner: The most wonderful meal on the road was at the unexpectedly good Chowder House in Utica/New York Mills, NY. Every single thing we ordered was fresh and deftly prepared from the crostini with marinated mozzarella to the absolutely dreamy beer battered haddock. Z's penne with pesto and veggies was a tad bit too oily, but it was beautiful and delicious. And the chowder was quite good, too.

Soundtrack: The whole time we drove beside the Erie Canal, I kept singing "16 Tons" to myself, because I conflate that song with the song "Erie Canal." They are not the same song, but for those keeping score at home the title of today's post is from the latter.

I've decided Rainy Days in Agawam is the name of my next album. David thinks this sounds like it will be a faux Joni Mitchell kind of thing, but I am really thinking something more of a deep, moody electronica deal.

Random thing: We feared a rainy day in Agawam because we were driving through thunderstorms on our way to a full day at the amusement park housed there. We arrived just when the storms broke and left 7 hours later when the lightning started again. In between, Z&O dared many rides.

For the white water rafting we rode in a big round floating car with three other people, including a teenager who'd been separated from his pack because they had one too many riders for their car. I felt bad for this young black guy suddenly faced with a thrill ride with some strange white family. He'd been exuberant and silly with his friends, but he looked down and avoided eye contact with us as we fastened our seat belts. "They totally threw you overboard," I said. He looked up and smiled. "Yeah, who needs them?" he said, and we proceeded to have a perfectly fun time. He and Orson both vocally called for the water to douse them, but I ended up the wettest of us all.